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Explanations often are quite simple

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FromEditorsDesk TonyI came close to unfriending someone who I have been friends with for a couple of decades, becoming one of those people who walk away from someone who says something I disagree with.

I vehemently disagreed with his take on the immigration crisis on our border (my friend lives in Missouri), in which he tied allowing our border to be wide open to the current 40-year-high inflation numbers.

I thought that not only was it a stretch that strained incredulity, but it was a blatant sop to the current administration’s foundering economy.

His point: Gov. Greg Abbott’s rules slowing vehicle traffic over bridges from Mexico from 3,000 to 100 is causing the price of tomatoes to skyrocket.

The governor ordered DPS to do additional inspections on trucks coming in from Mexico, citing safety concerns. 

Those inspections, in turn, caused delays, which governments on both sides of the border claim is adversely affecting their respective economies. 

It’s like the old argument who will do the jobs no one wants to do if we don’t let the border be as porous as it usually is, combined with the Putin is causing our gas prices to go up. It’s cynical, and designed to be a dig against conservatives.

Another friend posited that inflation is caused by corporate greed, and that corporations and big businesses are charging more than they “need,” just like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Two axioms in business are pretty much unassailable — the first being that when supply is greater than demand, prices are low, and if supply is less than demand, prices are high. The second being that corporations pass down costs to consumers. The points my friends are trying to make are squarely rooted in this. And that’s OK.

There’s a third one that we seem to be forgetting about, though, and that’s consumers vote with their feet. 

Let’s take that one and combine it with a little American exceptionalism and ingenuity. Let’s not allow outside forces to dictate our misery, because that way lies madness.

Tomatoes cost too much? Let’s grow them ourselves. Gas prices too high? We have the means, resources and determination to become energy independent and not rely on Putin or Saudi oil sheiks for oil.

If tomatoes only are available in Mexico, which I seriously doubt, then why don’t we go get them?

First and foremost, let’s stop the government from dictating every little piece of our lives, making the costs of things skyrocket from unfunded mandates, unnecessary safety requirements and ridiculous regulations.

See, the government produces nothing. It has, however, put itself into the equation of just about everything, which adds a layer of cost that really is unnecessary. Sure, it has the ability to regulate interstate commerce and stop monopolies, but that doesn’t mean it gets to essentially place itself at the top of the ladder.

Which is another way of saying that during election season, vote with your feet and against anyone who makes matters worse in the name of protecting the people.

Tony Farkas can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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I got my peaches down at Walmart

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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I got my peaches out in Georgia [Oh, yeah, ****
I get my weed from California [That’s that ****
I took my chick up to the North, yeah [Bad that *****
I get my light right from the source, yeah [Yeah, that’s it]

Justin Bieber “Peaches”

Justin Bieber may have got his peaches out in Georgia, but I get mine at Walmart. In fact, I get most of the fresh vegetables I can get year-round at Walmart. But I’m also old enough to remember when only seasonal fruits and vegetables were available at the local grocery store. Modern distribution systems enable us to ignore growing seasons, as we import whatever we need from wherever the produce is growing.

Take the humble tomato for example. The U.S. is a major producer of tomatoes while at the same time being the largest importer of tomatoes from Mexico. But produce isn’t the only thing to move both ways across the border between Mexico and the U.S. Automobile parts, electronic components and a whole list of other goods make that trip daily.

As I hope you are aware, there is a kerfuffle along the U.S. border with Mexico going on right now that has brought the finely tuned distribution of goods between the U.S. and Mexico to a stop. Governor Abbott has ordered a safety inspection of every commercial truck moving over the border to the United States. The result is predictable. Trucks are lined up for miles at the border, many loaded with produce that will spoil without refrigeration.

Because these big, refrigerated trucks carry only enough fuel to run their refrigeration units for seven days, and many of those trucks have been stuck in the border traffic jam for four days already, a lot of produce will be useless. Even if the truck’s loads survive, the snarled distribution system has already resulted in empty shelves and produce bins.

Gov. Abbott’s actions created this problem, and for days I tried to understand how tangling up well-oiled distribution systems benefited him politically. Making folks mad at you for what appears to be an unforced error just didn’t make sense to me. Until today, when the clear outline of a strawman appeared, followed by announcements from the Governor’s office that Abbott has negotiated deals at the time this article was written with two Mexican states to allow movement between two of the border crossing sites again.

The strawman argument, in this case, has Abbott creating a problem then bragging about solving it. Setting up the strawman and knocking it down. Putting out press releases celebrating his political astuteness.

The distribution system was moving normally before Abbott suddenly ordered these “safety checks.” Then, when they brought truck border crossings to a halt, he leaned on the relevant Mexican states to become the hero by solving the problem he created. At tremendous financial cost in lost products, lost productivity to workers who have been idled at loading docks around the country.

If you are left with any doubt this is all about politics, Abbott at the same time has engaged in another political stunt that will end up costing Texas taxpayers a lot of money. He has started sending immigrants who have crossed the border to Washington, DC. Now, because he has no constitutional authority to force these people onto a bus and move them across state lines (that would be human trafficking and kidnapping), he asks for “volunteers.”

Whatever deniability he might have had for his motive in this action was blown up when he had the first busload to DC let out in front of the building housing Fox News offices, where a reporter was ready to do an interview. Interviewers asked those who disembarked where they were going to go from there, and several said they were headed to Miami, Florida. I’m certain Gov. DeSantis has called Abbott to thank him.

As a lifelong Texan, I sure wish my state government would spend my tax dollars actually helping people instead of playing political games.

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Time to move education from the farm

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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A personal failing that I must acknowledge frequently is that lost causes follow me home like sad little puppies. I’m so attracted to them that I continue to adopt them even though doing so once came precariously close to getting me killed. 

Never one to be deterred by something as clarifying as a near death experience, I’m going to wade into the long running debate of the best way to structure the public-school year. The 21st Century debate centers around the four-day school week, but the discussion has been going on for decades.

My bona fides for discussing education don’t stem from any personal experience as a teacher. I have a very short tolerance for children (we didn’t have children, so please don’t call CPS), so a career in education would have been very short lived. My experience with schools is even stronger…I married a teacher.

When my wife and I married, she was teaching second grade and would teach elementary age children her entire career. I learned two things very quickly by marrying a teacher. First, a small-town teacher in 1978 made shockingly little money. Secondly, teachers worked very long workdays.

In the mid 1980s, the discussion about changes to the school year centered for a time on year around school, and the school she was teaching at was chosen by the district to test the idea. Instructional time was structured as six-weeks in class and one week off. The thinking was that the frequent week longs breaks would result in better educational outcomes because the students and teachers would be fresher after that weeklong break.

At the end of a year, the results were exactly as predicted. Students’ scores were up, and teachers were much happier with the arrangement. Exactly the outcome educators were hoping for. So, of course, the district immediately adopted year-round school? Well, no.

While the students were happy and did better, and the teachers were happy (less stress buildup), the parents hated it. Their complaints? Because day care is expensive, and parents depended on the school to act as free daycare so they could work, that week off every six weeks was unacceptable. The second reason was that the kids not having the summer months off conflicted with their vacation plans each year. When it came time to decide on continuing the program, there was such an uprising from the parents, even though their children were doing better in school, that the district killed the project.

The 2022 analog to the 1980’s year-round school is the four-day school week.  Shepherd ISD in San Jacinto County is one school that has adopted a four-day school week. Teachers are likely more enthusiastic with the concept than parents. And I’m sure the district has worked to resolve these issues.

But a primary concern of Shepherd ISD is not just educational advantages, but a practical one. Fed up with the obstacles to teaching students teachers face every day, many teachers have left the field. 

My wife often complained that if they didn’t have to do so much administrative stuff (paperwork), they could spend a lot more time working with the kids. In fact, the state passed a “paperwork reduction” act for educators around that time. Which, of course, only increased the amount of paperwork they had to do.

Faced with the difficulty hiring experienced teachers, Shepherd ISD appears to successfully be using the shorter workweek as an incentive for hiring teachers. Hopefully, shorter, more focused school weeks will result in positive benefits for both students and teachers.

The primary obstacle for school districts, in my experience, to innovation in educational approaches, is tradition. Few of our students need the summer off to work in the fields on the family farm. In fact, even in the 1950s and 1960s, when I was in public school, the first few weeks of summer vacation were great, and then we were just bored, and looked forward to school starting again. Taking even a couple of months off at a time sets students back and requires wasted time with reteaching at the beginning of the school year.

While I personally think year-round school is the better alternative, the four-day school week is a start to moving away from an educational system mired in an agrarian culture that no longer exists.

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Time will tell about school plans

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FromEditorsDesk TonyBy Tony Farkas
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Going to school as a young pup a couple of years ago, there always were times I wanted to go home. Sometimes, in my senior year, I did stay home, since I was finishing my high schooling while working a full-time job.

Heck, I even want to play hooky from work on occasion, having been doing this for more years than I care to relate.

My problem back then was that I was bored, but that’s just me. Even so, I noticed how much effort the teachers put into their work to get me smarter than I was.

In trying to keep that effort alive in the current millennium, there is an effort aimed at teacher retention in East Texas, one that I’m not convinced has merit.

In our area, Apple Springs and Centerville have adopted the new calendar, and it currently is in use. Corrigan-Camden, Jasper and Shepherd have approved the change, and Groveton will evaluate it in the next school year beginning in August.

Arguments on both sides can be compelling.

For parents, shorter weeks can mean ease of making appointments and more time with their children, even though extracurricular activities such as sports and band won’t change. For some, though, there will be issues and expenses with day care, particularly for the younger students.

The kids, of course, will most always choose less days. That’s par for the course; I would even go so far as to say that the school isn’t responsible for daycare; that’s the purview of the parents.

The underlying reasons that school districts have given for the change, though, deal with teachers, their needs and how that relates to the district.

Teachers are finding it difficult to deal with the requirements of the profession, what with all the educational mandates from every level, and when that is combined with what is viewed as low pay, having to work late nights and on weekends for things as simple as planning doesn’t seem worth it.

Smaller school districts having to deal with teacher recruitment and retention need some sort of incentive to get good teachers not only hired, but willing to stay. As many of the superintendents who have presented this plan to their respective boards have said, it will make the smaller schools competitive in hiring.

Nothing wrong with that, either.

The one thing I haven’t heard much of is how this will affect students’ learning, other than passing remarks on how more time can be spent on individual subjects and attendance is expected to improve.

However, the remote learning required during the COVID pandemic had a negative effect on proficiency; most boards agreed that face-to-face learning, and more of it, was necessary to improve student rankings in relation to STAAR tests.

In other states, such as Nevada and New Mexico, that have adopted four-day weeks, studies have shown that scores have taken a slight hit. However, these plans are in their infancy, and there’s no real data.

I applaud the educational system for looking for answers, and as long as a complete education is the end result for our kids, that’s great.

It will take the passage of time, though, to see if this becomes the educational panacea it’s expected to be.

Tony Farkas is editor of the San Jacinto News-Times. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Future funding for government entities

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County Judge PicBy Sydney Murphy
Polk County Judge

The Texas Legislature determines acceptable methods for funding government entities and school districts in the State of Texas. The main method of funding, as all of us know, is property taxes. The amount of funding from other sources such as sales tax is minimal compared to property taxes. We are all interested in reducing property taxes. However, if the State Legislature wants to reduce property taxes, then they must provide counties, cities and schools across this great state with alternative means of funding, or take back the responsibilities of providing services that they have thrust onto the counties, cities and schools over the years.

They have not. It is disingenuous for state legislators to continue to pontificate and politicize the very means of funding that they control. Instead of providing alternatives for other government entities (other than the state and state agencies), they reduced the percentage of revenue that counties could raise from one year to the next—from 8% to 3.5%. What does that mean for rural East Texas? How will that impact us? Why would politicians in Austin know what is best for East Texas?

Traditionally, Polk County Commissioners Court utilized the growth, new development and increase in valuations to fund improvements and maintain services. The county had maintained a $0.6461 tax rate since 2013. That strategy has allowed Polk County to slowly improve infrastructure, employee pay and county services, and also undertake the added responsibilities assigned to counties each legislative session. That strategy has also maintained spending well below the previously established cap of 8%. However, due to the lower revenue cap that was established by the Texas Legislature, the Court had to decrease the property tax rate to $0.6376 for this budget cycle. This legislative decision will have a resounding effect on progress and development in our area and especially for Polk County.

Consider the following:

The entire United States is currently dealing with an 8% inflation rate. Quite obviously, forcing every county in the State of Texas to minimize any increases to a maximum of 3.5% will not even allow us to maintain the pace with regards to employees raises. Previously implemented “cost of living” raises have been consumed by inflation and county employees continue to battle high prices. County employees, across the State of Texas, have historically not been in the highest compensation brackets. Quite often, the county benefits and retirement are their greatest compensation which is a long-term commitment.

We are all ensnared in the supply line crisis, along with COVID and other major obstacles. The county has also been impacted by the current circumstances that the entire United States, and the rest of the world, have been trying to manage. If the legislature is not going to allow us to benefit from growth in our communities and increased valuations, then we can expect to have a major reduction in infrastructure development and maintenance and certainly in services. Growing counties will constantly battle the changing needs that are occurring in their local communities, with inadequate funding.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Polk County saw a 10.4% increase in population over the last 10 years. Most of us would argue that the number is higher. However, that is the documented number that was provided to all of us. Furthermore, we have witnessed an explosion in both residential and business development and construction. With the paradigm shift that has occurred due to COVID restrictions, urban dwellers are moving towards rural communities where they can work from home and enjoy a different lifestyle. Polk County has experienced this increase over the last two years and we can only expect more. We need to be prepared for these changes in population and development, along with the infrastructure requirements that come with them.

The limitations set by the Legislature seriously hamper the county’s ability to respond efficiently and quickly to the rapid increase in population and development—it becomes impossible to stay ahead of the demand curve for more roads, more infrastructure, more services and increased development prior to it becoming a reality. Rural counties are going to forever find themselves strictly in a reactive mode as opposed to a proactive mode.

Our state legislature increases the burden on local government after every legislative session, without fail. The burden for mental health, indigent defense, indigent healthcare and a plethora of other duties and responsibilities continue to be shifted onto Texas counties and the taxpayers. Those “mandates” come with a price tag that the local taxpayers must pay. As the amount of money consumed by legislative mandates increases, Texas counties must face the challenge of continuing to pay for services and infrastructure needs for their residents. By capping revenues across the state, our legislators have seriously hampered the ability to respond to all constituents appropriately. They need to allow local government to provide local services and make local decisions.

Our legislators provide a service to the people of Texas, but they need to allow other entities to work without being sidetracked by Austin. Texans are decision-makers and we can decide what is needed in our communities. We do not need legislation from afar. We thank all of them for their service and appreciate their role in making Texas a great state. However, the whole is only as strong as the 254 pieces with which they are interfering.

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